How to Make Outdoor Metal Art Animals

Lawn art enhances a garden, adding a sense of whimsy to nature's beauty. One very popular design is metal silhouettes of animals. Perhaps animal art is popular because we naturally expect to see a rabbit hopping through a garden or some other curious and busy creature. By adding statues and silhouettes, we complete the expected garden image by adding in permanent animal residents.

Things You'll Need

  • Pre-made stencil or sheet of butcher paper
  • Scissors
  • Silver or black marker
  • Sheet of 1/8 to 3/8-inch thick steel
  • Welder's gloves
  • Welding goggles or welding helmet
  • Heavy, long-sleeved shirt
  • Plasma cutter
  • Metal File
  • Rectangular base of 1/2-inch (or thicker) steel
  • Arc welder

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Creating Animal Silhouettes

Select a stencil or create a paper pattern, employing your own artistic skills. Pick an animal with an easily recognizable shape, such as a rabbit or cat or horse. Draw the outline of the desired animal on butcher paper and cut it out with scissors. This "paper-doll" animal pattern is the shape your metal silhouette will be.

Place loops of masking tape on the back of the pattern and place it on the 1/8 to 3/8 inch thick sheet of steel. Using a marker (silver on dark metal and black on a light colored metal) mark the stencil mark the pattern onto the metal.

Cut out the shape, using a plasma cutter. Clip the plasma cutter's grounding clamp to a point inside the silhouette area so a ground will be maintained throughout the cut. Be sure to work over a large, open, non-flammable area while you are cutting to avoid any blown slag starting a fire. Let the metal edges cool before handling. Deburr or file cut edges to avoid injuries.

Make a base from the 1/2 inch (or thicker) piece of steel. Following all safety guidelines, use the plasma cutter to cut the metal to the appropriate dimensions. To calculate the dimensions, measure horizontally across the silhouette at its widest part. The base length should be two-thirds again of that measurement. While the base width will vary, about 1 foot should give most silhouette's enough stability. .

Use the plasma cutter to cut details, such as lines, holes or other cut-out openings. Be artistic. Cut holes for the eyes, but give them shape to create personality and realism; so rather than using ordinary round holes, use pointed ovals, or crescent moon shapes. A curved line can indicate the curve of an animal's haunches. It can add definition to the ears. As well, curlicues or stars in the animal's body can add whimsy.

Weld the silhouette to the base, centering the cut out. Attach the arc welder's grounding clamp to the heavier base plate. If using a gas-flux welder, be sure to weld in an area of still air to prevent the argon gas from being blown away from the weld point. Loop (or stitch) your weld from the heavier base plate up to the silhouette form, keeping the longer dwell time of your fire on the heavier metal to prevent burn-thru. Make sure the silhouette is welded perpendicular to the base.

Tips & Warnings

  • So when designing a pattern, remember it is only the impression of that animal you require--not every minute detail. Simple shapes will be easier to manage.
  • The taller the silhouette, the wider the base needs to be to maintain stability. If you are planning a tall silhouette, consider using a thicker piece of steel for the base. Silhouette shapes with wider bases are sturdier. For example, a rabbit sitting on its haunches offers a wide base, whereas a standing horse offers only two or four relatively narrow contact points with the base.
  • Instead of using a base, cut out your silhouette with one or more pointed "stakes" at the bottom. For this design, include the "stakes" when first drawing your silhouette onto the metal. When finished, you'll simply plunge the pointed ends into the ground. The number of pointed ends necessary depends on the overall size---a small rabbit might only require one but a large raccoon might need two.
  • Follow all manufacturer's guidelines and instructions when using your plasma cutter and arc welder.
  • If you are not already practiced at using an arc welder or plasma cutter, find someone who can teach you how to use them first. Then practice with simpler cuts before cutting out complex shapes.
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